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No Good Banker Man Knocking on the Door with Papers

[ 17 ] March 11, 2016 |

I’m sure that folks have seen this, but nevertheless…



[ 12 ] March 9, 2016 |
PLAAF Xian H-6M Over Changzhou.jpg

By Aquatiger127 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

My latest at the Diplomat has some additional thoughts on China’s relationship with foreign military technology:

Long story short, both the Chinese military and Chinese defense industry depend on Western and Russian technology, perhaps half a generation old. China’s central achievements have been architectural; reconfiguring systems and components to produce more lethal weapons. China’s formidable cruise and ballistic missile arsenals testify to the success of this approach.

Foreign Entanglements: Billion Dollar Spy

[ 3 ] March 6, 2016 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, David E. Hoffman and I spoke about his new book, Billion Dollar Spy:

Can’t recommend this book enough; ton of detail about 1980s spycraft, air defense technology, nuts and bolts geopolitics.


[ 122 ] March 3, 2016 |

I ranted a bit this morning about the #NeverTrump open letter than a group of GOP foreign policy types have published over at War on the Rocks. Main takeaways are this:

  • Complaining about Trump is pretty goddamn rich, given how reprehensible GOP foreign policy advice has been over the past fifteen years or so. Many of the contributors to this letter are deeply implicated in the most incompetent and immoral foreign policy decisions of the Bush administration; describing Trump as some kind of unique danger is, in this context, absurd.
  • There’s no effort among these folks to grapple with how the arguments they’ve made have laid the foundations for the Trump.  These are people who, by and large, have argued that vaguely coherent bluster is the best kind of foreign policy.  The central critique of the Obama administration from this quarter has been that he doesn’t do enough bluster; a “bluster gap” has opened that enables Putin to steal Crimea, etc.  Trump just drops the “vaguely coherent” part and keeps the bluster.
  • There are components of Trump’s foreign policy ejaculations that are abjectly sane compared to what the Establishment GOP is just fine with.  Yglesias alerted me to this one this morning; how do you watch this and NOT conclude that Donald Trump is the most reasonable guy in the room?

More broadly, I’m of various minds regarding the future of the #nevertrump movement. I strongly believe that Trump is a weaker general election candidate romney2that Rubio; Cruz might be a special case, but I think that even he would have less trouble drawing the disparate elements of the GOP together than Trump. But then, the quality of my prognostication skills is in deep question [ed- is Farley finally admitting that he was brutally, hopelessly wrong about Trump winning the nomination? Not yet!!!]. I also strongly concur with Scott that the practical difference between the evil done by a Trump presidency and a Rubio presidency is small-too-non-existent; this is one reason the Establishment types dislike Trump so much.

I think that it will be fun to watch as many of the #nevertrump folks determine that Hillary. Has. Just. Gone. Too. Far. after some milquetoast statement of policy and decide that they need to vote for Trump after all. At the same time, I think it will be extremely difficult for people like Rubio, Bush, and Romney to walk back what they’ve been saying about Trump in time for the general. What Marco has said so far, and what Mitt is apparently primed to say this afternoon, should provide nice fodder for a long series of attack ads against Trump.

Liberate Canada!

[ 54 ] March 2, 2016 |
BatDiv9 Arrival 1.jpg

“BatDiv9 Arrival 1” by Unknown – Originally appeared in a book created for the crew of the USS Wyoming as a memento of their service with the Grand Fleet, copyright 1919. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia.

My latest at the National Interest games out the War Scare of 1921.  Things don’t look good for Canada:

Even as the guns fell silent along the Western Front in 1918, the United States and the United Kingdom began jockeying for position. Washington and London bitterly disagreed on the nature of the settlements in Europe and Asia, as well as the shape of the postwar naval balance. In late 1920 and early 1921,these tensions reached panic levels in Washington, London and especially Ottawa.

The general exhaustion of war, combined with the Washington Naval Treaty, succeeded in quelling these questions and setting the foundation for the great Anglo-American partnership of the twentieth century. But what if that hadn’t happened? What if the United States and United Kingdom had instead gone to war in the spring of 1921?


[ 16 ] February 28, 2016 |
HMAS Canberra (LHD 02) berthed at Fleet Base East (8).jpg

By Hpeterswald – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

HMAS Canberra is on her way to Fiji:

Canberra is headed to Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston, which has reportedly killed dozens, done tremendous property and infrastructure damage, and left up to 30,000 homeless. The United Nations has suggested that Winston is the most devastating cyclone ever to hit the island.

Red Lines

[ 32 ] February 27, 2016 |

Well, this should be fun.

In the Room Where it Happened…

[ 57 ] February 26, 2016 |

“So we’re just going to call it the B-3, right?”

“Makes sense.  B-1, B-2, B-3.”

“Yeah… I mean, that’s how things are done.”

“Really, why would anyone ever consider calling it something other than the B-3?”

“Yeah, if we didn’t call it the B-3, we’d have to come up with some lame reason for why it would be something else.  Would seem very arbitrary.”

“Alright then.  Good to see we’re in agreement.”

Well, shit.


[ 6 ] February 23, 2016 |
Mui Ne4.jpg

“Mui Ne4” by MikeRussia – MikeRussia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

I spoke with CBC Radio this morning about the South China Sea.  Transcript here, listen here. Long story short, the US should worry about China’s assertiveness in the SCS, but it shouldn’t worry too much.

Gambling with the Baltics

[ 70 ] February 23, 2016 |
2 norwegian Leopard tanks in the snow.jpg

Norwegian Leopard tanks, Public Domain,

In my latest for the National Interest, I have some thoughts about the recent Russia-Baltic wargame coming out of RAND:

A recent RAND wargame on a potential Russian offensive into the Baltics brought talk of a “new Cold War” into sharp focus. The game made clear that NATO would struggle to prevent Russian forces from occupying the Baltics if it relied on the conventional forces now available.

These wargames have great value in demonstrating tactical and operational reality, which then informs broader strategic thinking. In this case, however,the headlines generated by the game have obscured more about the NATO-Russian relationship than they have revealed. In short, the NATO deterrent promise has never revolved around a commitment to defeat Soviet/Russian forces on NATO’s borders. Instead, NATO has backed its political commitment with the threat to broaden any conflict beyond the war that the Soviets wanted to fight. Today, as in 1949, NATO offers deterrence through the promise of escalation.

How to Excuse Torture

[ 48 ] February 22, 2016 |

By The Ardvaark – Originally from the May 10, 1902 edition of the Deseret Evening News. Posted to Flickr as 1902 Waterboarding, Public Domain

The following is a guest post by William L. d’Ambruoso, Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Washington.

It is bizarre – or, if it isn’t, it should be – that the leading members of one of two major political parties in one of the world’s most firmly established liberal democracies refuse to rule out coercive interrogation against terrorist detainees. Even stranger, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, has not yet suffered politically for saying that he’d “bring back waterboarding and…a hell of a lot worse…” If anything, he seems to have benefited.

Whether they plan to use it frequently or rarely, Republicans agree on how to excuse torture: by comparing this country’s behavior favorably with that of its enemies. This approach echoes the justifications offered by previous administrations. Then and now, these comparisons are misleading and irrelevant, and should not be a basis for another era of liberal-democratic torture.

Cruelty, by nature, can always be worse. A torturer can always find an example of something more horrible than what he is doing. According to Mr. Trump, “[W]aterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head.” Mr. Trump has repeatedly promised to go further than waterboarding. As long as he stays short of the horrors of beheading on the cruelty scale, he figures that he’s taking the moral high road.

Memories of these enabling comparisons in the George W. Bush administration are recent enough, but in case they are not, former administration officials still occasionally take to the airwaves to juxtapose the war on terror’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” against the tactics of the enemy. Torture, as recently defined by Dick Cheney, “is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that’s absolutely not true.”

Jeb Bush made essentially the same point last summer: “There’s a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. America doesn’t torture.” In New Hampshire, Ted Cruz used the Bush administration’s “vanishingly narrow” definition of torture to exclude waterboarding. “Civilized nations” don’t torture, according to Mr. Cruz, but they can use “enhanced interrogations,” including waterboarding, in emergencies. Torture is something other people do.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump has promised to be the harshest torturer of the bunch. But even as he claims that a Trump administration would do “whatever it takes,” he still uses euphemistic “enhanced interrogation” language to sell the point.

America’s use of favorable comparisons to excuse torture has deeper roots. In the Philippine-American War, General Fred Funston claimed that when Filipino soldiers under his command used the “water cure” (a method similar to waterboarding) against insurgents, they “were merely repaying the insurgents for worse treatment received by them in the past.” President Theodore Roosevelt also downplayed the water cure as a “mild torture,” claiming, “Nobody was seriously damaged, whereas the Filipinos had inflicted incredible tortures on our own people.” To his credit, Mr. Roosevelt still maintained that violators should be held to “sharp account,” and some (though not all) were prosecuted.

What most of today’s leading Republicans aren’t divulging is that “clean” techniques like waterboarding are designed to look and sound milder than they are. As Reed College political scientist Darius Rejali argues, liberal democracies, with their human rights laws and free presses, have been torture innovators, pioneering or adapting clean techniques like waterboarding (as well as stress positions, sleep deprivation, etc.) to avoid censure and prosecution. We should not be fooled. Journalists and even skeptical conservative talk show hosts have admitted that waterboarding is torture when faced with the cloth and pitcher.

Comparisons to the enemy are not just misleading, however; they are also irrelevant. Senator John McCain states the matter well: “[Al-Qaeda] has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.”

Sadly, advocates of “enhanced interrogation” may have shifted the debate in their favor. Not only did Mr. Trump win the New Hampshire primary handily; he has probably received as much admonishment for crass language as he has for his disregard for human rights. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Trump’s support for torture would have been outrageous; it should be outrageous now. We should strive for a society in which politicians who endorse torture pay a steep political price.

Droning On….

[ 24 ] February 22, 2016 |
Reaper UAV Takes to the Skies of Southern Afghanistan MOD 45151418.jpg

British Reaper over Afghanistan. POA(Phot) Tam McDonald/MOD, OGL, Public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat looks at some of the fruits of China’s cyber-hacking program, and notes how difficult it can be to clearly demonstrate causal effect in cases of industrial espionage:

U.S. defense officials have long suggested that China has illegally appropriated U.S. military technology through a variety of means, but mainly through cyber-intrusion. These intrusions have attacked the Pentagon, as well as defense companies, and even law firms.

To be sure, Gertz makes clear that no one can prove, as of yet, that China acquired information about U.S. drones through illicit means. And even if China did acquire data from General Atomics, the Department of the Defense, or the myriad of contractors, subcontractors, and law firms associated with the development and sale of U.S. weapons, it is by no means clear that China’s defense industry could absorb this data in ways consequential to the construction of its own drones.

Note that the Diplomat has instituted a paywall. Subscribe! Or get five free articles a month without subscribing, which conveniently happens to correlate with my number of monthly contributions…

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